Category Archives: From the Archives

Mayflower II starts her sea trials





Extract from the ‘Brixham Western Guardian’ 28th March 1957

As the time for the sailing of the Mayflower II, replica of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship, approaches, controversy grows over the probable outcome of the adventure.

Sceptics insist stubbornly, “She’ll end up by being towed across.” And just as stubbornly  – but in more picturesque language – her master, Alan Villiers, insists that she’ll sail her passage.




As the Mayflower II is entirely rigged with hemp rope, like her predecessor, instead of the steel wire and flexible steel wire ropes which stand up to the chafing so much better, Villiers spent six weeks last year in one of the last ships in the world with a galleon hull and cordage rigging – in the Maldive Islands.

In a 200 ton ship with no modern comforts he worked with the native crew, getting the feel of the cordage, sketching the run of the rigging and noting methods of avoiding chafe. He also questioned the men who made the ropes and tackle.

Formal creation of the Mayflower Foundation was announced by Sir Alfred Bossom, Conservative M.P. for Maidstone , at a reception at the House of Commons on Monday.  The reception was given to mark the completion of Mayflower II, which as Sir Alfred confirmed, is to begin her voyage across the Atlantic “somewhere between April 10th and April 15th.”

Mayflower II is to be presented to the American people as a gesture of enduring goodwill, and Sir Alfred Bossom said that the duty of the Foundation will be to administer the surplus funds left after paying for her building and voyage, by providing Anglo-American exchange scholarships.

Mayflower II will begin her trials in Torbay on Monday, if the weather is suitable. After completing the trials, the length of which has still to be decided, the replica of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship will sail to Plymouth.



And here’s an advertisement which appeared in the same edition of the paper…





A gallant rescue in a heavy gale


A lengthy extract from a contemporary account of the sinking of H.M.S. Formidable in 1915 and the subsequent rescue of survivors by the Brixham trawler ‘Provident’…



Extract from the ‘Brixham Western Guardian’ 7th January 1915

It was officially announced that the battleship Formidable was sunk on Friday morning in the Channel, whether by mine or submarine was not certain. The Formidable was a twin screw battleship of the pre-Dreadnought class, of which there were eight in the Navy. She was 420 feet long, 75 feet beam, of 15,000 horse power, had a speed of 18 knots, and carried a complement of 760 men.

As far as could be ascertained the disaster to the Formidable occurred out of sight of land. The weather became very tempestuous and the waves were running high. At one moment the moon would be shining brightly; at the next dark clouds hid her light. there was no sign of the lurking enemy and it was not considered probable that there were mines so far down the Channel. Without the slightest warning however, there was an explosion on the starboard side of the Formidable, in such a spot that she was not only disabled but narrowly escaped the fate of her sistership, the Bulwark, the remarkable disaster to which had been witnessed by many of her crew. The ship took a list to starboard, but there was no panic. Officers and men manifested great coolness, boats,barges and woodwork were at once got over the starboard side, one of the barges being capsized and the occupants thrown into the raging sea.

It was not until a second explosion occurred on the port side of the battleship that it became evident that it was a case of every man for himself and that a great disaster was inevitable. Distress signals were sent up and it was more than an hour before the Formidable turned turtle and disappeared. Before that however, the other battleships had followed the instructions of the Admiralty following the North Sea disaster, and got clear away from the fatal spot.


After being in their open cutter for nearly 12 hours, two officers and 70 men of the battleship were rescued by the Brixham fishing smack Provident some 15 miles from Berry Head. When taken on board the trawler they were accomodated in the engine-room, cabin and fish-hold, but such a number was a big tax on the carrying capacity of the boat. They were in a pretty bad way for they were less than half-clad, indeed some of them were not covered by a shilling’s worth of Navy clothing, but remarkably cheerful despite their experiences. During the night it rained, hailed and blew, and they were very fortunate to reach safety, for every two or three minutes the cutter was washed by the waves, and it was only men with a superb constitution who would have come through such a terrible ordeal. “Quite sixty out of the seventy men took off their boots and used them as balers,” said one survivor. “We were baling all the time, and managed to keep the water under. We worked with a will, though we were very glad when the Provident, after grand seamanship, saved us all.”


The needs of the men were attended to on board the smack. All the Provident’s stock of food was fairly divided and all the cigarettes and tobacco the men possessed was used. Hot coffee was continuously made by little Dan Taylor, the cook, who was quite a hero. On nearing Brixham, the Provident fell in with the tug Dencade,which towed her in, and she was berthed at the pier. The rescued men who were in a pitiable condition gave a hearty British cheer – the like of which only British tars could give – and sang “Auld Lang Syne,” and then in batches of four and five wrapped in blankets, they were taken, by waiting cabs, to the Bolton Hotel, the Globe, the Cafe, the Sailors’ Institute and Doidge’s, these being the distributing centres. Here the men were provided with hot food and warm clothing and either went to bed at these places or went into private houses which were thrown open to them.


William Pillar, owner and skipper of the trawler is quite a young married man, not much over 30 years of age and all the crew are young men. It appears that about 9 o’clock on Friday morning the Provident was racing through mountainous seas of the Channel before a south-west gale with the hope of making Brixham Harbour. The foam-capped waves were running mountains high, but the sturdy little craft was handled with fine seamanship for which Brixham is famed.
Off the Start the trawler had to heave-to owing to the force of the wind, and just at that moment the vessel was struck with a particularly heavy sea. She had been running rigged with a reefed mainsail, a reefed foresail, and no jib.


Hardly had the decision to heave-to been arrived at when the third hand, John Clarke, noticed a boat being tossed about like a cork on the waves some little distance off. He shouted to the captain and the mate to jump up, saying, “Here’s a sight under our lee!” They were amazed to see a small open boat drifting amid the mountainous seas, with a boat hook hoisted as a staff, from which was flying a sailor’s black scarf. One moment the boat would appear on the crest of a wave high up, and then it would be lost to sight for several minutes. With hardly a though of the collossal risk the captain and crew at once set about rescuing the men in the boat. After a great struggle they managed to haul down the second reef of the mainsail and set the storm jib. The cutter, which had been riding at a sea-anchor rigged by the men, drifted towards the Provident, but in the mountainous seas they missed each other, and the naval boat passed out of sight of the men on the smack. For the moment they thought she was lost.


Clarke climbed the rigging, and presently discovered the cutter making heavy weather of it just to leeward. Captain Pillar gybed his vessel a very dangerous undertaking in such weather since the mast was liable to give way. Four times did the gallant smacksmen seek to get a rope to the cutter. Each effort was more difficult than the last, and it was only after between two and three hours’ hard fight with the seas and after four attempts, that the Provident obtained a good berth on the port tack, and a small warp was thrown and caught by the naval men. When made fast, the warp was coiled around the Provident’s steam capstan, and with great skill the cutter was hauled to a good berth astern. Then the warp was passed around the lee side, and the cutter was drawn up under the lee quarter.


The bluejackets at once commenced jumping from the boat to the smack, and although this was a hazardous task, in the heavy seas that were running 30 feet high, they accomplished it successfully in true navy fashion. All were rescued by one o’clock and a course was then shaped for Brixham.

Plans to develop Shoalstone Pool


One of a series of articles featuring extracts from our archives…



Extract from the ‘Western Guardian’ 11th January 1923

Brixham Council on Monday (Mr. H.G. Silley chairman) made a move forward in the right direction for popularising Brixham as a summer seaside resort by their decision to apply to the Ministry of Health for sanction to borrow £1,700 to carry out certain improvements at Shoalstone Beach, on the Berry Head Road near the entrance to Berry Head, and for the provision of shelters. An application will be made to the Unemployment Grants Committee for financial assistance towards the scheme.

Last July the Council appointed a Town Development Committee comprising the Councillors and some half a dozen  prominent residents to consider schemes for the development of the town on lines attractive to Summer visitors. It has always been considered that the greatest drawback was the rough character of the beaches in the neighbourhood of Berry Head and the lack of convenient bathing facilities at low tides. At Shoalstone there are several natural basins which could be converted into ideal bathing ponds.

The “Seaside” Committee have selected a site in the centre of the beach for the construction of a permanent pond 60ft. long and 48ft. wide with the water graduating from the shallow to about 5ft in depth, which will be one of the largest of its kind along the Devon coast when completed. It is proposed to provide a sandy or shingly bottom. In addition to ideal bathing facilities at all states of the tide it will create a splendid area for miniature boat sailing. The constructive work will be undertaken for the pond to be ready for early bathing. The whole of the upper portion of the beach will be levelled with concrete paving and give access to the whole length of the beach. Provision is made for the erection of shelters.

For years past, Brixham has grown in popularity among summer visitors. The great drawback, the need of a bathing pool at all tides, is now being tackled, and when complete, will assuredly do much to popularise the picturesque fishing town and immediate locality.



And here are some advertisements which appeared in the same edition of the paper…



Opening of the New Fish Quay – Forty years ago!


The first of a series of articles featuring extracts from our archives….


Image of Newspaper Headline


Extract from ‘Fishing News’ 22nd January 1971 

From a port where century-old facilities were creaking under the strain of a progressive and expanding fleet, Brixham has been transformed into one of the most modern inshore fishing centres in Europe.

Built at a cost of £325,000 by the County Borough of Torbay, supported by the
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the new fish jetty opened last week is an integral unit combining a fish market, cold stores, processing plant, research laboratory, transport loading bays offices and a patent slipway.
A welcoming crowd of several hundred people including fishermen, their families and townspeople saw Mr James Prior, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food unveil a plaque to open the new fish market and Jetty.


Image of Brixham fishmarket 1971


At the opening ceremony he remarked: “The port of Brixham is coming into its own once again. The amount of fish landed has risen steadily in the last four or five years, and I am delighted the fishermen are to have proper marketing facilities.”

When he stepped ashore Mr. Prior commented: “It is the first time I have been out in a fishing boat and have not been ill.”

Since the formation of the fish marketing co-operative Brixham and Torbay Fish Ltd. in 1964, and the growing number of modern diesel engined trawlers ranging up to 75ft., Brixham started to re- gain some of the eminence it had as a fishing port at the turn of the century. Since 1964 landings have consistently risen from 1,500 tons to 2,200 tons in 1969. ‘

But the pace of progress at the port had overtaken the facilities, which were a serious impediment to any further expansion of the fleet.

Describing the situation in the recently published book, Fishing Ports and Markets, Mr. E. W. H. Gifford. of the consulting engineers to the Brixham harbour project said: “ Trawlers must arrive in the harbour before low water if they are to land their catch onto the quay and the fish must then be transported in trolleys some 200m to the market, through a main street thronging with visitors in the summer. The ice must also be carried from the ice plant the same way. This wasteful movement costs £5000 a year in labour alone. But the fishermen’s troubles are not over when they have berthed for falling tide leaves their boats dry and liable to damage. They cannot return to sea again until the tide returns and so that fishing time is often lost.”